Sunday, April 27, 2014

Happy, Joyous and Free--Some More

A few months ago I wrote about joy and how it is different than happiness. I said that while happiness cannot, of course, be a constant we can find joy in most of our life.

One of my best lessons on joy came from a former sponsor who said this: “Joy comes from my relationship with God. So I can be Joyous even when I am not happy.”

But this idea of joy intrigues me so I have been reading about it. Yesterday I found more on joy written by Rollo May, psychiatrist and philosopher, who wrote the classic book, “The Courage to Create.”

May wrote is this about creativity and joy:

“When creativity or discovery is underway there can be a sensation that others might describe as anxiety but, the artist, at the moment of creating does not experience gratification or satisfaction (though that may be the case later when he or she has a highball or a pipe in the evening). Rather it is joy, joy defined as the emotion that goes with heightened consciousness, the mood that accompanies the experience of actualizing one’s own potentialities.”

That, I think, is close to what my sponsor meant about finding joy in our spiritual life even when we are not happy. It is close to what the artist is experiencing—that sense of actualizing a potential. Even in pain, even in grief—if we are truly conscious—we are growing and in that we can experience joy.

“You were not meant for pleasure, you were meant for joy.”

                                    --Thomas Merton

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Our Wounds Our Gifts to Others

In  The Promises we read, "No matter how far down the scale we have gone we will see how our experiences can benefit others." Our pain becomes strength, the things that shamed us become tools and gifts.

Here--for poetry month--is a beautiful rendering of this same sentiment by playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder--author of "Our Town." He writes:

“Without your wounds where would your power be?  The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service, only the wounded  can serve.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Step Three--Into the Abyss

In Step Three we turn our lives over to something that is bigger than us--something that we don’t control. For some of us that might be a pretty traditional god—an anthropomorphized “He”, and for others the Higher Power is an “it” or an idea. The central idea of the Third Step is that we surrender to this bigger being or concept, we remove our hands and we take a leap of faith.

Over the years when taking the Third Step has again become hard for me, and for me Step Three is always an “again” process, I will get out my copy of the movie “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade” starring Harrison Ford and I cue it up to watch the final twenty minutes of the film.

You may remember this film and how near the end of the movie, when Harrison Ford as “Indiana Jones” is nearly at the place of the Holy Grail he faces a wide crevasse that is impossible to jump across. The cave of the Holy Grail is on the other side of this wide, precipitous gulf and Jones has to get across to save Sean Connery, who plays Ford’s father.

Ford/Indiana stands on the edge of the great crevasse and he looks completely stricken. He looks across, and then he looks down. To step out into this vast nothingness is certain death.

And then—and this is the part that I love--he says, “Oh shit” and then he steps into pure emptiness. As Ford prepares to drop through space the invisible bridge appears under his foot.

Step Three is always inspiring after the bridge appears. But it is also typically an “Oh shit” moment just before that happens.

I need lots of reminders about the Third Step and surrender. It’s one of the reasons that I still go to meetings. I need repetition. There are some recovery insights that seem so brilliant and obvious that I’m sure, “I’ll never forget that!” Those turn out to be the very things that I have to hear –and experience--again and again.

One of the ways that I remind myself is with a little card I keep on my desk that says, “I made a Decision—not a feeling—to turn my will and my life over to God.” That helps me to remember that I don’t have to feel good when I surrender. If a good feeling is meant to be it will appear like Indiana Jones’ bridge—after I step into the void. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Poem for People in Long-term Recovery

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end, or the marriage fails and people say they knew it was a mistake, that everybody said it would never work.
That she was old enough to know better.
But anything worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back through the hot stony field after swimming, the sea light behind her and the huge sky on the other side of that.
Listened to her while we ate lunch.
How can they say the marriage failed?
Like the people who came back from Provence (when it was Provence) and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

"Failing and Flying" by Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2005 .

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April 15--Jackie Robinson Day

Today is Jackie Robinson Day. On this day in 1947 he took a big step onto Brooklyn’s field as a Dodger.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was not only the man who was the subject of  “baseball’s greatest experiment”, who put a face on the color change in baseball, he also changed the chemistry of America’s pastime as well as its color. Sports writer Mike Lupica says of Robinson: “He played with flash and arrogance and made ferocity an art. Baseball did not look the same after Jackie Robinson.”

But we have to remember that history rarely happens in big events and single moments. There were other people who were critical to Robinson’s being able to do take those courageous steps on April 15, 1947.

 Jackie Robinson was not the first black to play professional baseball. It might be more correct to say that he was the first black to cross the color line who was allowed to stay.  The very first black to play professional baseball in America was Moses Fleetwood Walker. Walker holds the dubious honor of being the first black to play pro ball and the last to still be playing before the final shut out of blacks in baseball by Jim Crow laws.  Walker, a catcher from Ohio, was educated at Oberlin College and the University of Michigan and played ball at both schools before joining Toledo’s professional team in 1884.  Moses Fleetwood Walker set a precedent.

The refusal to allow blacks in pro ball meant that black ball players had to form their own teams and their own leagues. This formation of all black teams led to one of the most glorious periods in baseball history.

 There is a tendency I think for baseball fans to look at the Negro Leagues as the poor cousin to “real” baseball. Stories of barnstorming days give the sense that black baseball was an inferior game and organization. This could not be farther from the truth. Most of the bad conditions for Negro leaguers came after integration of the game. In their prime The Negro Leagues were multi-million dollar operations, among the largest black businesses in the United States, which sent millions of dollars into and through the community. .

Negro League star Josh Gibson was the greatest player of that time. He is now considered by most baseball historians to be the greatest baseball player of all time. One of the games most natural hitters, Gibson played for Pittsburgh’s Homestead Grays. Gibson’s hitting prowess outshined Babe Ruth. In one season Gibson hit 89 home runs, 29 more than Ruth’s record. And Gibson is the only player to ever hit a home run out of Yankee Stadium.

Without Josh Gibson Jackie Robinson’s moment would never have come. Josh Gibson showed fans what black ball players could do and he showed major league owners what black fans could mean to the business of baseball.  The Homestead Grays, who played in any town that had a ballpark available for rent, set attendance records in most of the big league parks along the east coast and through the mid west. Josh Gibson was the hot draw and fans- black and white -- came from all over and sold out every game to see him play.

Those sold out houses were not lost on another important baseball man, Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey had been managing baseball teams all of his adult life, and when he came to the Dodgers he inherited an aging team and declining audience. He wanted to win a pennant and he knew that the hottest talent in the game was in the Negro Leagues.

Rickey knew that the draw for those games while mostly black included white fans who loved the more energetic brand of baseball played by the all black teams. Rickey spent more than two years orchestrating Robinson’s first step onto Ebbets Field. Rickey was willing to endure the scorn of all of the other major league owners and managers.

But ultimately it was Jackie Robinson who had to step onto that field, and who agreed to Rickey’s offer and Rickey’s terms. And the terms were tough: Robinson promised, “no reaction, no matter what” for three years. That was not easy for Jackie. He had to put up with bean balls aimed at his head, spikes aimed at his shins and the ugly names aimed at him and at his family.

Rickey admitted later that, “Jackie had to turn the other cheek so often that he had no other cheek left – both were beaten off.” But Jackie Robinson was not Jesus and not Gandhi. It is unfair to characterize him as a man of superior spiritual character who took his enemies racist hatred and returned compassion and forgiveness. He did not. Robinson swallowed a lot of that hatred. He was smart enough to know that this was the only way the “experiment” would work and he was wise enough to know that the men waiting behind him in the Negro Leagues depended on his fitting in. 

Robinson was the man who took the risk, who played the game and who changed its play in so many ways. But Branch Rickey can also be a role model for showing us that winning and making a profit do not have to be separate from making important social change.

Looking at these others who set the stage for Jackie Robinson doesn’t take anything away from him on this special day. Rather it may let us take away something that we can apply to our lives. There are many parts to play in making great social change. Most of them come without recognition and they can, like Rickey’s, come with very mixed motivations.

Few of us will have the opportunity to be the man or woman of the moment, to publicly enact history in such a dramatic way, but we all have opportunities to be one of the unnamed others, who, though unrecognized, are necessary to building the momentum and critical mass that allows the historical moment to happen.                         

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Wendell Berry Poem on Spiritual Progress

A friend shared this poem that went straight to my heart. It is by Wendell Berry and it describes the sensation we have in a long recovery, of coming out of the woods.

Maybe you, like me, have those times when you feel you have barely changed, something hard is happening and you struggle, but when you look back you realize how far you’ve come and that you really are different.

When we look back we can see where we were before and we can see the graces that were there. It gives us the strength to go forward. We realize we have progressed and that there was grace. 

Here is the poem by Wendell Berry:

We travelers, walking to the sun,
can’t see
ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.

                                                      --Wendell Berry, Given: New Poems

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Poems about Recovery --the Healing with Poetry

April is Poetry Month so,

“Let us remember…that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.” --Christian Wiman

For this Poetry Month I’ll be posting some poems about recovery, and growth and how we change our lives. I hope you’ll make them part of your daily meditation and that you will share them too.
We begin with Mary Oliver who writes in “The Journey” about the experience that many of us had that got us here:

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-

though the whole house
began to tremble

and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,

though their melancholy
was terrible.

it was already late
and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen
and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice

which you slowly
recognized as your own,

that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do
determined to save
the only life you could save.